Anna LaBella

When Arianna “Anna” Labella first complained of pain in her upper thigh in July 2019, her parents, Jess and Rob, attributed it to growing pains. Just a few days later, a large mass was detected on Anna’s pelvis and she was rushed to Albany Med. “I felt like my world had just crashed beneath me,” says Jess when she remembers that day.

After several days of testing, doctors at Albany Med diagnosed nine-year-old Anna with Ewing sarcoma. This aggressive form of cancer typically occurs in bones or soft tissue surrounding bones. Jess describes the first two months of Anna’s treatment as a complete blur. Anna became so sick from the chemotherapy that she spent the majority of those months as an inpatient at Albany Med.

Photo of Anna LaBella on her first day of radiation treatment

It was during that time that Jess and Anna’s two-year-old brother, Carter, found a home away from home at the Ronald McDonald House. Rob made the three-hour round trip from the Utica area as frequently as possible, and once his employer granted him a temporary transfer to Albany, he was able to join his family full-time.

LaBella family photo

“The Ronald McDonald House allowed us to stay together as a family at a time when it would have broken us to be separated. They allowed us to be a family and took care of us during the worst part of our life.”

Jess LaBella, mother of Anna

From that time on, the LaBellas returned to the Albany Ronald McDonald House frequently so that Anna could continue her treatment at Albany Med. In the summer of 2021, their family became the very first to stay at the newly opened Ronald McDonald Family Retreat at Krantz Cottage in Lake George.

Carter and Anna LaBella checking out a bedroom at the Ronald McDonald Family Retreat at Krantz Cottage

Through it all, Anna has been a true warrior. “She has taken it all in stride, and I am so proud of her,” says Jess. “She’s always smiling, always positive, and always trying to make people laugh. I’m in awe of her. She really is my hero.”

In the midst of Anna battling cancer, the LaBellas have made it a point to give back to other children and families dealing with serious illness. They’ve returned to the Ronald McDonald House to prepare home-cooked meals for their fellow guests — including a dinner of regional Utica favorites like chicken riggies and tomato pie. Anna even started her own foundation — Anna’s Sunflower Warriors — raising money to provide care packages and special treats to other kids in the hospital.

“We look for any way we can give back and say thank you,” said Jess. “When people donate, I don’t think they understand how much it really does impact families. It is because of them that parents are able to be there for our children. It means the world to those of us who stay here.”